Sunday, February 13, 2011

Domicile conjugal, or Bed & Board (Movie Review)

Domicile conjugal is a 1970 French comedy about a young gentleman named Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and his wife Christine Darbon Doinel (Claude Jade) after they have been married for a little while and just before and after they have their first kid, Alphonse.

A lot of times these failing marriage movies seem to move along kind of slowly, but this one plays out quickly, from Antoine's failed attempt to revolutionize rose dying to the disintegration and reintegration of his marriage in a pretty short period of time. Antoine is young, brash, and full of confidence about his ability to make his own way in life, whether or not that confidence is well-founded. Christine is tough and powerful woman, observant and vicious in turn, and perfectly capable of taking care of herself if necessary.

They live in a little apartment complex with a courtyard in the middle where Antoine dyes flowers at the beginning of the movie and where all the of the lower-middle class players in their life congregate and observe each other. This is a cheating movie, fair warning, and it's interesting to see how other cultures deal with it. In this movie, everyone totally knows what's going on. All their friends, all their relatives, with Antoine's father-in-law passing him on a stairwell in a whorehouse at one point in the movie. It seems like American movies make infidelity a more dramatic moment, but François Truffaut, the director, plays instead off of the drama that's occurring between the two characters about the infidelity which is altogether more interesting. There's panic here, and a little bit of rage, but everyone stays at a pretty low simmer emotionally and at the end of the fighting and bickering the same relationships are in place as at the beginning, but a little more calloused and a little more raw for the wear.

At the beginning of the film, Antoine and Christine's neighbors are playing out a little scene where the gentleman is pacing back and forth outside the apartment waiting for his wife to finish her prepwork so that they can go to whatever social function they're on their way to. By the epilogue at the end of the film, the Doinel's are playing out the same scene but with a little more humor and the neighbor lady says to her husband, "Now they're truly in love," or something like that. It's an interesting and brief comment about the human tendency to enjoy seeing other people mimicking our behavior a little more deftly.

This is the fourth in a series following the life of Antoine, and I am interested in seeing the others in the series. This movie is available on Netflix to watch instantly, so check it out.

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